Published On: Wed, Mar 20th, 2024

Exploring Sustainable & Tech-Integrated Fashion Production

Henry Ma

By Henry Ma, CEO — Ricoma

It’s no secret that the fashion industry contributes greatly to issues of carbon emissions and their negative impact on the environment. According to a recent study, the fashion industry produces up to 10% of the yearly global carbon emissions. As a result, many innovators in the clothing and custom apparel industry have begun paving the way for more sustainable and technologically sound practices that will lower carbon emissions. 

Tech integration into fashion production has been a major game changer in the industry, not only for moves towards more sustainable practices, but for better service in a consumer-driven economy. As “fast fashion” loses favor with consumers who expect more sustainable and earth-friendly options, companies are searching for ways to integrate technology into their processes to deliver a more individualized, tailored experience. 

A move to ethical manufacturing 

Studies show that modern consumers are 73% more likely to purchase from sustainable, ethical manufacturers. Small businesses and large corporations alike strive to match those customer values by enacting sustainable production practices.

As technology has improved, the large-scale production of apparel has grown easier and more efficient. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rise of print-on-demand businesses.

Print-on-demand technology has improved greatly, with new programs and technologies allowing for unlimited color and design options, intuitive design software, and smaller-batch capabilities. Moreover, new decorating methods like direct-to-garment (DTG) and direct-to-film (DTF) printing generate less waste than traditional methods, such as screen printing. 

DTG printing typically only requires a brief pretreatment to allow the design to bond with the material of the fabric. After this, the design is sprayed with inks and cured with a heat press, ensuring the design’s resiliency and quality aren’t lost.

With DTF printing, designs can be printed directly onto a transfer film, and then placed onto the fabric using a heat press. This process generates vibrant, high-quality images without the bulky feel of traditional prints or the use of excess materials or energy, making it a more sustainable option for custom apparel business owners.

One of the benefits of DTF and DTG printing is that they generate less mess and waste than traditional screen printing, which requires you to create custom, one-off, non-recyclable screens with your design. DTG, however, lets the printer transfer the design directly onto the shirt, meaning no screens or excess materials are needed. With DTF, the design is printed on recyclable transfer film, meaning it doesn’t produce  nearly as much waste as traditional screen printing.

Blending sustainability and technology in fashion production

In the past, barriers that prevented smaller businesses from offering print-on-demand clothing items, such as affordability and accessibility, had been all but eliminated. Newer DTG and DTF platforms — such as Ricoma’s Vision DTG printer — have allowed for a more boutique business experience, more personalization and individualization within the industry, and less overall waste. 

Moreover, print-on-demand technology is growing in popularity and is projected to reach a $7.4 trillion market value by 2025. As more people discover the lower barriers to entry with print-on-demand technology, the better the outcomes for the environment will be. 

How Ricoma ensures sustainability in custom apparel

Another way the techonology is helping the fashion industry to become more sustainable is through descreased water consumption.

Water consumption is one of the biggest factors negatively impacting the environment. The fashion industry has always relied heavily on water for the production of textiles , as well as the cultivation of cotton and other fabrics to create new garments. 

That’s why many fashion houses and small clothing businesses have begun utilizing technology to revitalize older clothing through upcycling. This practice helps ensure greater longevity for specific pieces of clothing, keeping them out of landfills and reducing the need for new material production, conserving water and energy that would have been expended on the manufacturing and dying of new fabrics. 

One example of upcycling is the use of vintage or thrifted pieces for garment embroidery or printing projects. With new embroidery machine capabilities, even the most amateur of designers can seamlessly create pieces that look and feel high-fashion while remaining sustainable through upcycling. By repurposing these items with added flourishes through embroidery or garment printing — be it floral embroidery touches on vintage dresses or printing one’s brand logo on an old thrifted jacket — designers and manufacturers can remain fashion-conscious and environmentally aware, all while creating unique one-of-a-kind pieces. 

Many people who have purchased Ricoma embroidery machines have started creative side hustles or small businesses by repurposing vintage and thrifted clothes, revitalizing them with beautiful embroidered designs. In addition to being a creative solution to the sustainability issue, upcycling keeps things local, cutting down on the need for large-scale shipping operations. 

Avoiding waste is a way to not only do what is best for the planet, but give today’s sustainability-minded consumers what they want from a fashion brand . Through ethical manufacturing  that balances  the traditional and the technologically advanced, the fashion industry can become  a beacon of  sustainability to other industries. 

Author: Rohan Singh

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